Is a Waterproof Cast Right for You?

Comfort and Ease With a Cast You Can Get Wet

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The biggest nuisance with having to wear a cast is the need to keep it dry. You have to fuss with bags or a waterproof cover to take a bath or shower and swimming is definitely out of the question. However, for the right person and the right injury, you might be able to wear a waterproof cast instead.

While traditional paddings used for casts will fall apart when they get wet, the waterproof option doesn't. It may seem like a logical choice that will end many frustrations that come with a broken arm or leg, however, these casts are not perfect.

Before you ask your doctor to put a waterproof cast on you or your child, there are some things you need to know.

What Makes a Cast Waterproof?

Waterproof cast materials are not really waterproof, rather they are water resistant. When a fiberglass cast is used with a waterproof cast liner, water can drain from the cast and the padding will remain intact.

Prior to the development of these waterproof and breathable paddings, casts were padded with cotton. While cotton can be comfortable, it does not tolerate water and tends to collect sweat and odors over time. Because of this, the only way to clean the extremity was to see the doctor, have the cast removed, wash the skin, and get a new cast.

The waterproof materials used in these newer casts use synthetic alternatives to cotton-like Gore-Tex. This creates a breathable and waterproof underpadding that can withstand water and allows you to bathe, wash, and swim without worry. The cast liner allows water to drain from under the cast and air dries it within a few hours.

The covering is no different from cotton-padded casts. Most doctors have been using colorful fiberglass coverings to wrap casts for years. These are tougher than the more traditional plaster casts.

Most People and Doctors Prefer Waterproof

In a study published in 2016, researchers compared cast liners made of cotton and Gore-Tex on 20 patients with broken bones. The subjects ranged from 3-years-old to 30 and wore cotton liners through half of the healing process and Gore-Tex-based liners during the other half.

The results found that the new waterproof option produced less sweat and odor, therefore keeping the limb cleaner underneath. Because patients could rinse the cast daily, they had a better overall experience and 75 percent preferred the waterproof liner.

Doctors in the study noted fewer skin problems as well. Despite the more difficult application, they also gave the waterproof liner higher scores.

The study also notes that there was no difference in pain, itching, or overall comfort between the two casts. The casts did not weigh any different, either.

Overall, researchers concluded that waterproof liners show promise in reducing patient frustrations with casting. While they may not be perfect, this technology does have a good start for making casts more comfortable and easier to deal with.

There Are Disadvantages

The biggest problem with waterproof casting material is that it's expensive. Even more important is that some insurance companies will not cover it. Your doctor's office may not know right away if the cast is covered or not, so you could be in for some sticker shock.

While the material in a waterproof cast will not fall apart, it will take a considerable amount of time to dry. Sometimes it can be a few hours and can feel a bit like wearing a wet sock. It is possible to speed up drying time with the help of a blow dryer. You just want to take care not to burn your skin or dry it out.

Even though you can swim with a waterproof cast liner, doctors still caution about going to the beach. The chances of sand and other debris getting inside the cast are too great, so it's best to stick to the pool.

Additionally, waterproof casts are not for every injury. Your doctor will determine if it's right for you and some may wait until it's partially healed to allow one.

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View Article Sources
  • Guillen PT, Fuller CB, Riedel BB, Wongworawat MD. A Prospective Randomized Crossover Study on the Comparison of Cotton Versus Waterproof Cast Liners. Hand (N.Y.) 2016;11(1):5053.
  • Children's Orthopaedic and Scoliosis Surgery Associates, LLP. Waterproof Casts. 2015.